Damages in Civil Actions in Ireland

damages in civil actions

Remedies which can be granted by Courts in civil actions include various orders-for example for specific performance or rescission of a contract-, injunctions, and monetary compensation, also known as damages.

Types of damages

  1. Nominal damages: a Court may award damages where a person’s legal right has been breached but have not suffered financial loss as a result of the loss
  2. Contemptuous damages: a minimal sum is awarded to the Plaintiff to allow the Court signal its disapproval for the conduct of the Plaintiff
  3. Exemplary/punitive damages: these are awarded to make an example of a defendant and they may be based on public policy considerations.

Punitive damages may be awarded where there is an abuse of power of State employees, for example false arrest, malicious prosecution by an Garda Siochana or other arm of the State.

  1. Aggravated damages: these are awarded as additional compensation where the injury has been caused or increased by the exceptionally bad conduct of the defendant.
  2. Compensatory damages

In a breach of contract case the aim of compensatory damages is to put the plaintiff in the same position they would have been if the contract had been performed.

However, in a negligence case the aim is to restore the plaintiff to the position they would have been in had the tort/civil wrong not been committed. This is “restitutio in integrum” (restoration in full, I think). This will be effective where the plaintiff has suffered pecuniary loss and this can be easily quantified.

Sometimes, however, it is not possible to turn the clock back for a plaintiff who has suffered personal injuries. In these cases, the Courts will award compensatory damages which can be divided into 2 categories:

  1. a) general damages-awarded for pain and suffering and loss of expectation of life
  2. b) special damages-awarded to compensate for pecuniary loss suffered by the Plaintiff. This would include loss of earnings, damage to property, cost of medical treatment etc.

Actuarial evidence

To calculate future losses an actuary will be asked to prepare an actuarial report. This report will be used by a Court to compensate the plaintiff for future losses. These losses can be loss of earnings, the cost of medical care, or both.

Contributory negligence

Where the damage suffered by a Plaintiff is partly caused by his own lack of care his damages will be reduced by the amount the Court feels he has contributed to his own problem.

Dishonesty or exaggeration in a claim for damages

The Courts have identified 3 scenarios

  1. where the claim is concocted
  2. where the claim is genuine but the effect of the injuries is exaggerated, with no intentional lying by the plaintiff
  3. where there is a genuine claim but the injuries are intentionally and knowingly exaggerated

A trial judge will treat these situations differently, depending on the particular circumstances of the case, and evidence.

Mitigation of damages

A plaintiff has an obligation to try to keep their losses to a minimum.

Damages in personal injury cases

Learn more about damages in personal injury cases here.